Stand back -- major mouse dissection in progress

In tech support, it never hurts to clarify exactly what you mean, especially the terms that seem obvious to you

As IT pros, we sometimes laugh about the tech antics of less informed clients. But what happens when even basic equipment befuddles a smart, savvy, and pro-active user? For starters, it's a good reminder to techies everywhere to keep an open mind and to never take any knowledge for granted.

I was out on a call upgrading a couple of desktops. I had previously worked at this location and had a great relationship with the people there, so we were shooting the breeze and chatting about this, that, and the other thing.

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One woman brought up the fact that she had been having problems with her right shoulder. She said her therapist recommended rearranging her desk to make it more ergonomic, and we bounced around some other suggestions that might ease her discomfort.

A helping hand

Her office was a typical small cubicle with little to no room to customize, so I suggested she use her mouse with her left hand for a while instead of her right. It might give her right shoulder a break and provide some relief.

The other southpaws in the office were all up for increasing their numbers and encouraged her to switch as well. I also mentioned that she could switch the mouse buttons for use with a different hand and still have her index finger doing all the clicking.

She was a bit hesitant about navigating with her left hand, but overall thought it was a great idea. She was willing to try anything to relieve her pain and promised to get right on it. Knowing her level of tech savviness, I thought nothing else of my suggestion and continued with my upgrades.

An hour or so later, she approached me asking for assistance. She said she had rearranged her cubicle and moved the mouse to the left side of her desk, but was having issues switching the mouse buttons.

Most of the office had just upgraded to Windows 7, so I was certain that the problem was that she couldn't find the correct category to tweak the mouse settings. I gladly followed her through the maze of cubicles.

But as we arrived at her newly arranged cubicle, I noticed something strange. She had a flathead screwdriver and a pair of pliers lying out on her desk next to the mouse. She didn't have any settings up on her screen at all.

Pulling the old switcheroo

She picked up the mouse, pointed to the buttons, and said there must be some kind of trick to getting these things off because she hadn't been able to do it so far. She was actually trying to pry off the buttons on the mouse so that she could "switch" them.

It took me a moment to hide my surprise and amusement. When I'd gotten my voice and expressions under control, I explained that we would actually be changing settings on the computer that would allow her to "switch" the mouse buttons. Luckily, it was much easier than physically manipulating the actual buttons.

Understanding dawned in her eyes, and she seemed relieved that it was so much easier than she'd been anticipating. We put her tools back in the toolbox and I showed her how to change the mouse settings. I inspected the mouse and was relieved to see that there hadn't been any damage done from her fix-it attempts. It worked just fine.

As we were talking about how she could easily switch the settings back when she wanted to use her right hand again, I took another look at the mouse. It struck me that the two buttons were not mirror images of each other. I mentioned this and asked her how she had planned on putting the buttons back on once she'd pried them off. She did a double take, laughed, and said she hadn't thought that far ahead.

This situation was more fun than average since it happened with someone I knew well, so we could laugh about what might have been. And it serves as an easy reminder about troubleshooting. Now when I'm helping a user and think we're on the same page, I look at a mouse as a reminder to make sure to clarify who, what, when, where, why, and how whenever I offer any suggestions. It's saved me from more than a few repeat scenarios.

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This story, "Stand back -- major mouse dissection in progress," was originally published at Read more crazy-but-true stories in the anonymous Off the Record blog at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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